My feeling is that for full-time employees of media organizations, a single, named ethics chief should make final determinations in all cases where a journalist wants to give a paid speech. It’s silly to ask the journalists themselves to make such determinations unilaterally, since they’re the ones being paid. The rules could be written or unwritten, but at least there would be someone being clear about what is allowed and what isn’t. Alternatively a blanket ban, like the WSJ has, works just as well.

For freelancers, however, things become a lot more difficult. The NYT, for one, tries to hold its freelancers to the same standards as its full-time journalists, but that’s hard, especially when the NYT isn’t paying them nearly as much. At the very least, we need more disclosure. This is very telling:

With the notable exceptions of Gillian Tett, Michael Lewis, and Martin Wolf, most of the journalists I tried to talk to about their speaking appearances resisted comment, or would only talk anonymously—which is a little ironic. One prominent scribe pleaded not to be mentioned at all. (Sorry, no passes.) I still have the bite marks on my neck from a telephone conversation with another who demanded to know whether he was the target of a “hostile inquiry.”

If you’re not proud to be giving a paid speech, and happy to be open about that fact, then it seems to me you shouldn’t be doing it. And that applies whether you’re self-employed or not.

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Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at